After a long day of work, few things beat coming home, kicking your shoes off, playing some of your favorite tunes, and pouring yourself a nice (large) glass of wine.
In fact, some studies even suggest that consuming one or two glasses of wine every night is good for your overall health! However, there are some concerns to be aware of if you plan on drinking wine while vegan.
But first, the real question – Is wine vegan?
It depends. Although there are plenty of vegan wine options, not all wine is vegan. Although the winemaking process is mostly natural, some of the filtration and purification methods used before bottling involve the use of animal by-products.
In today’s post, I’m going to be talking all about wine! I’ll explain the key difference between vegan and non-vegan wine and why some wine isn’t vegan. Then, I’ll explain how wine fining works and how to tell whether the wine you’re buying is vegan or not.
Can Vegans Drink All Wine?
At its core, winemaking is incredibly simple. It’s one of the oldest beverages in the world, and civilizations have been making and drinking wine long before modern manufacturing techniques came around. Wine is essentially just fermented grape juice.
It seems vegan enough, right?
While wine itself is 100% vegan, some wine is filtered using animal by-products before it’s bottled and sold on store shelves.
Depending on the type of filtration process that’s used, an otherwise-vegan wine could easily turn not-so-vegan by the end of it.
This is why it’s always important to do your due diligence and research the wine you’re drinking before you consume it.
As a general rule of thumb, you should never assume that anything is vegan. Take maple syrup, for example. On the surface, it’s just concentrated tree sap. However, if you dig a little bit deeper, you’ll find that some maple syrup farms use bacon fat to help filter the syrup!
How Wine “Fining” Works
The final filtration process that wine goes through is referred to as “fining” by the wine community. During this process, residual particles are filtered out of the wine to create a “finer” taste (hence the term).
So, why does wine need to be fined?
To understand why most vineyards fine their wine, it helps to understand a bit more about how the fermentation process works. It all starts with fresh grapes. Ripe grapes are mashed and allowed to ferment with yeast, which is what turns grape juice into alcoholic wine.
Then, the wine is aged. During this process, the tart, sour-tasting malic acid is converted to a smoother-tasting lactic acid. This is why aged wines tend to taste better (and cost a lot more!).
After aging, the wine must be filtered to remove organic compounds and sediment, such as yeast, bacteria, sticks, stems, skin, and pulp. Otherwise, your wine would have the consistency of high-pulp orange juice.
This is where the fining process comes in.
Long before modern micro-filtration methods came about, winemakers would add a fining agent (usually animal-derived) to the wine.
All of the contaminants and particles would bind to the fining agent, leaving the pure, filtered wine behind.
Egg whites are, by far, the most ancient wine fining agent, as eggs were around far before modern chemicals and manufacturing. The other two most common fining agents are:
- Gelatin: Gelatin is an animal-derived protein that is made by processing animal by-products, such as skins, fats, and ligaments.
- Potassium Caseinate: Potassium caseinate is a milk-derived protein that’s naturally produced during the cheese making process.
For a full behind-the-scenes look at winemaking, check out this cool video by Insider:
Is Wine Fining Necessary?
In olden times, fining was a necessity to ensure that wine was safe to consume.
Today, however, it’s more of a luxury. With modern filtration processes, excess particles (and even microscopic bacteria) can be filtered out without the need for any animal fining agents.
So, why do some vineyards still practice fining?
In addition to filtering out unwanted compounds, fining wine can also improve the flavor of the wine. It interacts with the tannins (the bitter flavor from the skins) to create a rounder, more complex flavor.
Fining can also make wine more resistant to heat, acting as a natural “preservative” and ensuring the wine doesn’t spoil prematurely.
Often, wine fining is combined with filtration to create a superior-tasting, well-filtered product.
That being said, wine fining is NOT necessary. Filtration is more than capable of removing excess wine sediment, yeast, and bacteria. While filtered wine may not taste as “fine” as a fined wine, most wine drinkers won’t notice the difference.
You’d have to be a trained sommelier to really tell the difference in flavor and texture.
Are There Vegan “Fining” Methods?
Although traditional vineyards like to use old-school fining methods, there are also a number of vegan fining agents that modern vineyards are incorporating in place of animal-derived fingers.
Some of the most common vegan fining agents include:
- Bentonite clay
- Plant-derive casein
- Silica gel
- Vegetable plaque
All of these fining agents are found in the soil or extracted from plants, making them 100% vegan-friendly.
Wineries that use these vegan fining agents often market their wine specifically to the vegan community and offer vegan-certified bottles, so you won’t be left with any unanswered questions.
Should You Really Be Concerned About Micro-Ingredients?
Wine fining agents are what you’d refer to as “micro-ingredients.” These ingredients either account for a very small percentage of the final product or are non-existent in the final product and aren’t listed as an ingredient.
This often makes it hard for vegans to know whether a product is truly vegan or not.
While I always encourage my readers to do their research, I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes you just don’t know. As a vegan, you should make an active effort to avoid consuming anything made with animal by-products.
However, when it comes to certain micro-ingredients (such as fining agents), it’s sometimes hard to tell.
The point being, don’t beat yourself up about consuming a glass of wine that was made using animal-derived fining agents. It’s often difficult (or impossible) to tell which, if any, fining agents were used during the winemaking process.
What Percentage Of Wine Is Vegan?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any statistics measuring the percentage of vegan and non-vegan wineries in the world.
Since the concept of vegan wine is relatively new and the term “vegan” isn’t regulated by the government, there are only a few vineyards that are officially certified as “vegan” by third-party organizations.
Conclusion – How To Tell If Wine Is Vegan
The best way to be 100% sure that a wine is vegan is to buy wine from a certified vegan winery.
Other than that, there’s really no way of knowing, as most bottles of wine don’t include information on the fining agents used during filtration. You could call the company itself, but it’s unlikely that you’d get a straight answer.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid fine, aged wines (especially reds), as there’s a higher chance that they may have utilized animal-derived fining agents. PETA also keeps an updated list of registered vegan wineries that you can check out here!
I enjoy a glass of evening wine just as much as the next girl, but it’s also important to stay hydrated throughout your day. Also, consuming alkaline water is a great way to prevent and recover from hangovers! Check out my list of the best vegan water brands next…